After being too busy to revamp the shelves for several years, I considered selling them on craigslist, but I realized they would fit on either side of my bed perfectly and could act as nightstand/displays for all my books and tchotchkes (mostly, the solar-powered Japanese desk toys on the bottom shelf).
I discovered that the old paint was high gloss and oil-based (after doing a cotton swab test with some denatured alcohol...oil based paint won't come off with that test). So...I had to lightly sand to roughen up the paint (you don't have to go overboard and kill your arms by sanding down to the wood or anything). I then wiped everything down with a damp cloth.
I used Zinsser 1-2-3 Primer that the paint guy at Home Depot said would be best for the job. The paint was just a quart each of Behr gloss latex. I think the only hiccup was that I bought the paint over a year ago and it seemed rather watery and thin. I had to use several coats of the yellow to get decent coverage. I used the entire quart of yellow and could have used a little more. The white went on a lot easier/nicer.
I thought a modern two-tone palette would be nice, since they reminded me of old Chinoiserie-style shelves that are often painted in black and red lacquer. Plus, it will go a long way to liven up my mostly greyscale decor. NOW, I just need to paint over those cream-colored walls!
(Images: Michelle Chin)